Vanessa arrived in Pine Valley in January 1999. While attending a fundraiser at The Valley Inn, Vanessa immediately introduced herself to Erica. Erica and Vanessa hit it off and Vanessa helped out by giving Erica's charity a sizeable check. While walking Vanessa to her car, Erica was horrified when Vanessa suddenly clutched her chest and collapsed to the ground. David Hayward happened by the scene, but he flat out refused to assist Vanessa. Luckily, Joe Martin was also at the event and he stepped in to save Vanessa's life. Since he was the head of cardiology at Pine Valley Hospital, David was required to check in on Vanessa and monitor her health. Immediately it became clear that the pair knew one another. Just how they knew one another wasn't immediately known. Erica visited Vanessa in the hospital and informed her that the check she'd written to the fundraiser had bounced. David learned of Vanessa's bounced check and blasted her for being up to her old tricks. Then the link became known---Vanessa was David's mother.
Vanessa continued her effort to get closer to Erica. After Erica was involved in a horrible car accident and had half of her face horribly disfigured, Vanessa visited Erica daily in the hospital. It became increasingly clear that Vanessa was not there to be friendly. She looked at Erica with great disdain. She hated the idea that Erica was so well off---but secretly adored the fact that her beauty had been taken from her. Vanessa overheard a conversation between Joe, David, and Myrtle about the dangers of telling Erica about the extent of her facial injuries. Up until this point, Erica was told that she simply had a few minor scratches on her face. Vanessa took it upon herself to tell Erica that her face was "horribly disfigured." Erica was sent over the edge and agreed to a television interview in the library of Pine Valley High School. When Vanessa learned of the interview, she alerted all of the local television stations and tabloids. The media descended upon the school and the news of Erica's damaged face was public.
Vanessa's bounced check was a harbinger of more problems. She was broke---with little more than a few dollars to her name. She pleaded with David for a line of credit, but David turned her down coldly. Instead, he offered her a one-way plane ticket to Florida. He was furious with Vanessa for having told Erica about the extent of the damage to her face. Amazingly, Erica thanked Vanessa for breaking the news to her. She felt betrayed by her other friends and immediately pushed everyone out of her life -- everyone, that is, except for her new best friend, Vanessa. So grateful was Erica that she agreed to take Vanessa in as her houseguest since Vanessa was short on cash. Once in, Vanessa had all of the locks changed so that Opal and Myrtle could not gain access to the house.
Vanessa continued to work hand-in-hand with Jerry Reeves, the reporter that had conducted the interview at the library. Vanessa wasn't done exploiting her "friendship" with Erica. She enlisted renowned sleaze writer, Donald Steele, to ghostwrite a tell-all book about Erica. Living under the same roof with Erica allowed Vanessa to have easy access to all of Erica's dirty laundry. Ultimately, Erica learned of Vanessa's work with Donald through Janet and, of all people, Brooke English. Erica realized that Vanessa wasn't really the friend she claimed to be. Erica promptly booted Vanessa out of her house.
Her past bad encounters with Opal provided to be a bonding topic for Vanessa and Palmer. Palmer was quite taken with Vanessa's knowledge of the business world. After numerous weeks of trying to impress Palmer, Vanessa and Palmer were married at sea while on vacation. Married only a short time, Vanessa was soon up to her old tricks, shopping and scheming ways to relieve Palmer of his money. Vanessa was nearly cut off when Palmer found that she was borrowing oodles of money to help a much younger man. Palmer believed that this young man, Leo, was Vanessa's lover. He had Leo kidnapped and set-up a plot that would make it look like Leo had killed Vanessa in a jealous rage. When it came time for the shooting, Vanessa revealed that Leo was her son --- not her lover. Palmer jumped in front of Vanessa and took the bullet. Vanessa learned that Palmer had plotted to kill her and used the shooting as leverage for months.
Vanessa's parenting skills came under fire when she reverted to her old, adulterous ways. Vanessa found her way into the bed of a young, shady character named Paolo Caselli. The two were not strangers; they'd apparently had an affair several years prior in Europe. Things got complicated when Paolo threatened to expose Vanessa's affair to Palmer. Leo was roped in when he hired Paolo to seduce Marian Chandler on Adam's request; with the hope that Stuart would ditch Marian if she had an affair with Paolo. Paolo ended up dead - and Leo was arrested because he was found hovering over Paolo's dead body. It turned out that Vanessa had accidentally killed Paolo by slipping too much of a powerful sedative into his wine. That and a high level of cocaine already in Paolo's system did him in. Vanessa never spoke up to defend her son because she feared that it would mean the end of her free ride with Palmer. Vanessa was set-up, thanks to some help from David, to confess the truth --- David slipped her a medication that made her think she was having a heart attack. The charges against Leo were subsequently dropped, though no one ever spoke publicly of what Vanessa had done. Palmer used Vanessa's involvement against her, just as she had used his murder plot against him.
Vanessa kept a low profile, due mostly to the fact that Palmer had cut off her credit. Vanessa found easy cash when she learned that Arlene had hit Stuart with her car while she was drunk. Arlene had thought that she had killed Stuart but soon discovered that he was alive and well and living in the west with no memory of who he was. Vanessa used the information to blackmail Arlene. So impressed was Palmer with the way his wife had duped Adam out of money (via Arlene), Palmer welcomed Vanessa back into his life and restored her credit. When Arlene got pregnant and subsequently suffered a miscarriage, Vanessa helped Arlene concoct a plot that she believed would help her keep Liza out of Adam's life by pretending to still be pregnant. Needless to say, Adam and Liza eventually found out and their marriage was over.
Vanessa remained in the background for many months, quietly taunting Opal about her marriage to Palmer. In mid-to-late 2001, however, Vanessa re-emerged into the forefront when she was revealed to be Pine Valley's powerful drug lord, Proteus. Vanessa had kept her identity well hidden, but as investigators began to close in around her, she began to lose her grip. As Proteus, Vanessa coerced Mateo into becoming part of her drug empire. Mateo agreed, but only because he feared that Proteus would harm his family. Mateo also decided that he would try to take down Proteus on his own. David walked in on an affair Vanessa was having with her chauffeur, Larry. To make things worse, Vanessa and Larry were doing the dirty deed on David's bed at The Valley Inn when he caught them. Vanessa had arranged for Larry to kill Mateo, but Larry missed out on his chance. Ultimately, it led to his demise. Vanessa had given Larry a powerful drug that should have killed him when he was escaping town after Mateo's murder. But since Larry didn't kill Mateo, he instead went to Vanessa and Palmer's hotel room. Larry dropped dead and Vanessa started to panic. She tossed Larry into a closet and later hid his body in an old trunk. Palmer arrived home shortly and Vanessa confessed her affair with Larry. Palmer became enraged and threw her out of their room. Vanessa summoned David and Leo to her room, told them what happened, and talked them into removing the trunk from the room (supposedly it was filled with her personal items). That trunk -- and Larry's body -- later ended up floating in Willow Lake. Leo and David grew more and more suspicious of Vanessa and Mateo soon sensed that Vanessa might be Proteus. When Leo learned that Larry had been found in Willow Lake, he knew that his mother must have killed the driver. David called the authorities and Vanessa became the prime suspect in Larry's death.
Vanessa's reign as Proteus wound down as she drugged Greenlee and Jake and sent them out on a sinking ship, and drugged Frankie's sister Maggie (who had stumbled onto her secrets) then left her to die in an abandoned pump house. Leo learned of most of her crimes and decided to con her by agreeing to leave town with her. When he turned on her at the last second, she pulled a gun on him, but she wasn't able to shoot her own son. Leo also didn't shoot her, and she fled the boathouse. But her car crashed as she tried to escape, and she was admitted to hospital. Once there she claimed that she was mentally incompetent to stand trial, and soon after, a split personality, Rosie Wells, from her Hollywood days, began making appearances. Vanessa was doing well in convincing the doctors of her insanity when her new lawyer, James Kenyon III a.k.a Trey, drugged her and let her escape. She barged into Brooke English and Edmund Grey's engagement party, insulting various townspeople as she held Greenlee at knifepoint. She was eventually grabbed by Leo, and sent back to her hospital ward.
Several months passed and Vanessa was again broken out of her psych ward because Proteus drug operatives wanted to get their hands on the profit money. After this little adventure, which involved her being dragged to Leo and Greenlee's wedding and Leo nearly being killed, Vanessa went into a coma and "died." But she returned to life moments later, now asking to be called Nessa. Nessa claimed that she was the kind, compassionate Leo and David had never had, because Vanessa's personality was forceful and dominant, pushing sweet Nessa to the background. Over time Leo and others began to believe her, or almost believe her. Nessa then learned that Trey had been plotting against her for months because he hated Vanessa for giving him up at birth. Mother and son managed to mend fences, and the very dysfunctional family was at peace for a few moments, before the next upheaval.
"Nessa" was whisked away by federal agents to live in a safehouse, under constant watch by guards. Slowly but surely, Vanessa began to make herself known again, and had no plans to stay in her current situation. Kidnapping Greenlee, she demanded that Leo find the diamonds she had stashed away some time earlier. He found the gems, and the three of them met up at Miller's Falls. Leo realized Vanessa was going to kill Greenlee as soon as he gave her what she wanted, and he dropped one diamond in the water, then another. During the confusion, Greenlee managed to get away, but was pushed off a cliff and could barely hold onto the side. Vanessa began firing shots at her, and Leo, refusing to let his mother hurt his beloved wife, grabbed her and jumped with her off the falls. Neither body was found, but they have been presumed dead ever since.